A Savvy Storage Solution
Perth, Australia, is sometimes described as one of the most isolated major cities in the world. In fact, it’s closer to Dili, East Timor, and Jakarta, Indonesia, than it is to Sydney, a city in its own country.
But you wouldn’t feel isolated if you worked security at the Public Transit Authority of Western Australia (PTWA). The PTWA—which encompasses rail, bus, coach, school bus, ferry, and other services—has an expansive CCTV system that weaves a web of 10,000 surveillance cameras throughout the country’s largest state, providing security with a sense of interconnectedness. Cameras are situated everywhere from buses to railcars to train station platforms, all to keep an eye on citizens and authorities alike while providing safety and security.
In 2008, the transit authority was looking to upgrade its network storage solution to hold video for longer periods of time and to increase overall operational efficiency. The Australian government’s ombudsman recommended that government agencies retain their video footage for at least seven days. But PTWA wanted to exceed that expectation and keep video for 31 days, says Steve Furmedge, director of security services at PTWA.
However, when the agency began retaining video for 31 days, its storage system would often lose footage it was supposed to be storing. “We outgrew our previous system’s capacity and capability very quickly,” Furmedge says. “It’s almost like we actually were the victims of our own success. Our system was being used so much more widely and had much more of a burden on it.”
IT personnel were overwhelmed by managing the system, which was decentralized. And due to the volume of video being archived, the agency itself would misplace video content. “At one stage the system was so overburdened we began to have huge losses of retained footage, which is, of course, unacceptable in any business.”
When PTWA researched the marketplace to find a centralized storage solution, DDN Storage stood out as the best provider. “We wanted to have a retention capability that exceeded our current standards at the time, and combine it with opportunities for potential scaling in the future,” he tells Security Management. “We also wanted a guaranteed and timely backup support service.”
It chose DDN’s S2A9900 San Storage Solution. Furmedge describes the system as a reliable platform: It is “a lot quicker, it’s got better speed, the retention is longer, and it’s more user-friendly for the operators.”
PTWA wanted to ensure a seamless transition while integrating the new infrastructure so that it wouldn’t create legal or safety implications for agency activity. Furmedge notes that the staff made extensive risk mitigation plans for the installation, and provided risk workshops and other personnel training. Last year, PTWA upgraded from DDN’s S2A9900 to the SFA12K platform, which has more storage capability and runs applications even faster than the previous DDN solution.
The upgrade was fairly simple, says Ross Grey, the manager of technology and infrastructure at the agency. “We took the approach that we would replace all of the DDN solution, in place, with no down time for the CCTV system that it supported,” adds Grey. He says the upgrade has improved the capacity for storage, and the authority has had no video availability issues since the new system was installed.
There are 10,000 cameras in the PTWA’s network, and 1,700 of those devices feed directly into a central monitoring station where the PTWA can see what’s happening in real time. The remaining 8,300 cameras are posted in buses and railcars and mainly serve forensic purposes in case an incident needs to be reviewed.
The surveillance system allows for remote viewing and search capabilities. “My control room is at a different facility, miles away from me, and my offices are down in the city,” Furmedge explains. But from any networked device, he can log on to a password-protected Web portal to access any of the 1,700 cameras live and call up any of the recordings from the last 31 days. “I can do that remotely from any computer that’s networked that I log into.”
The cameras are equipped with two-way voice capabilities, a feature that has helped the agency deter criminal activity in real time. Furmedge says the camera resolution is so good that an operator can zoom in and read a beverage label to check whether someone is consuming alcohol on a train platform. If it’s indeed liquor, the operator can then use the public address (PA) system to tell the person to get rid of it. The operator can then escalate the message if the citizen does not comply, and warn that police will be dispatched.
“And you’ll then see them reluctantly tip [the drink] out,” Furmedge notes. “So we’ve stopped having to send resources out to outlying stations.”
Using the video footage to negate civil claims against the agency is another critical function of the video, Furmedge says. Many people try to blame the PTWA for slips, trips, and falls on escalators, stairs, or train platforms. But a simple video clip can prove that someone tried to skip four stairs while running to catch the train, for example, which caused them to fall.
False claims against transit workers can also be addressed with the video surveillance. Workers know to inform the operators at the central command center when they go to deal with a passenger, so the camera can zoom in on the situation to document what happens.
“The transit officers know the system is there,” Furmedge says. “It also makes them act more professionally because they know they’re under an extensive system, and it also helps to protect them and the image of the PTWA as well.”
Another success the PTWA has had with surveillance is getting rid of the graffiti that had previously plagued the outside of railcars and other parts of its facilities, an undertaking it calls “Operation Cleanskin.”
Furmedge notes that the project uses video footage to track down criminals after the fact. “We look at the [stored] footage, and see when we flip through it when the graffiti was done, and then we actually identify the offender.”
The agency releases a photo to the public to track down the perpetrator and arrest them. “The media did a story in the state newspaper and had 13 offenders on the front page, and within 24 hours all 13 had been turned in by someone, and all have been arrested, charged, and prosecuted,” he says.
Once the PTWA was even able to take advantage of the interactive cameras to stop an assault immediately. “The operator picked it up on the camera, it was late at night, and he then actually announced over the PA, ‘I’ve zoomed in, I’ve got pictures of you; the police and transit officers are on their way,’ and this offender stopped mid-assault and ran off,” Furmedge recounts.
Because the CCTV system is so expansive and the public is keenly aware of its presence, he says that PTWA has been able to deter a lot of crime on the transit system. “If you’re going to do a drug deal, the last place they go to is a transport system because they know the CCTV system is so good,” says Furmedge. Perth itself may be isolated, but its transit system isn’t.